Table grapes rank among the top five produce items at the 20 Portland, Ore.-based New Seasons Market locations, says Jeff Fairchild, produce director. Fairchild prefers “the old, classic plain pack” – not bags or clamshells ( Courtesy New Seasons Market )

Table grapes are available year-round, thanks to offshore export programs, but they seem to be associated more with the warm, summer months and outdoor eating occasions.

That’s certainly true for shoppers at Grocery Outlet Inc., a chain of 246 stores based in Emeryville, Calif. 

“We definitely see a jump (in summer),” said Daniel Bell, senior produce and floral buyer. “That’s (California’s) prime time.”

Grape sales remain strong during the warm weather despite the potential for cannibalization by other summer fruits, he said.

He attributes much of their staying power to new, unique varieties.

“With all the new varieties that are coming out, I think the grape growers are positioning themselves to hold their ground and continue to build on what they have,” Bell said.

Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos., partner in Grocery Outlet’s table grape program, has a lot of new varieties that are “beautiful in appearance and eat really well,” he said.

“The grapes you see in stores nowadays are so pretty to look at, they’re almost fake looking, but they also have really good flavor.”

Table grapes are good sellers year-round at Palmer’s Market in Darien, Conn., said Mike Manginelli, produce manager.

But during the summer, when some of the more intriguing varieties become available, the store has a whole table dedicated to California grapes, he said.

The store carries conventional and organic red and green grapes along with muscat grapes on occasion and specialty varieties, like Witch Fingers, more recently rebranded as Tear Drop; Cotton Candy and Gum Drop, all developed by Grapery in Shafter, Calif.

Cotton Candy is an especially popular variety.

“We can’t keep those in the store,” Manginelli said. “They’re amazing.”

Palmer’s Market was one of the first stores to offer the variety, he said, adding that Cotton Candy grapes are especially popular among families with younger children.

Grapes typically are sold in bags, but he said the store sometimes has Cotton Candy grapes in 1-pound clamshell containers.

Bell of Grocery Outlet said there are two practical reasons for the trend toward new kinds of grapes: They have higher yields, and they’re easier to grow than traditional varieties, like thompson seedless.

Many growers are ripping out their thompson grapes, he said.

Growers also have learned that shoppers often buy with their eyes, Bell said.

“Nowadays, grape consumers are driven more by the look of the grape, and I think the grape growers have figured that out,” Bell said.

“All the new varieties that are coming out are beautiful, pristine-looking grapes that have good flavor.”

Even the high-graphic bags that grapes come in have a strong visual appeal, he said.

Although there are certain varieties that consumers might look for, such as Cotton Candy, they generally are not variety-oriented when it comes to typical red or green grapes.

“They just want good-quality grapes,” Bell said.

Green is the top-selling variety at Grocery Outlet, followed by red grapes.

But Bell said he’s been seeing more black grape sales recently.

“That one is really gaining in popularity,” he said. “There’s a big opportunity for growth there.”

Palmer’s Market features table grapes on ad often during the summer, though not every week, Manginelli said.

Advertised varieties usually are those that are most widely available and a good value at a particular time, he said.

Palmer’s does not formally sample grapes, he said, but shoppers are welcome to try one and decide for themselves which ones they prefer.

Table grape sales “are definitely up,” Manginelli said, especially the new varieties. 

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